The Breathless Present


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At once a writer’s autobiography and a road book, with vivid portraits of an unusual group of people—ranging from an early mentor and one-time neighbor, the late poet Archibald MacLeish, to world renowned jazz great Wynton Marsalis (with whose bands Carl Vigeland traveled for many years) and the author’s charismatic, tormented father, also a musician—The Breathless Present tells several intersecting stories in a variety of voices that mirror music’s power to transmute memory and affirm life.

“If I were going to read a story,” Vigeland’s daughter Maren says as they walk their dog Jack in an early scene in the book, “I wouldn’t want to read it if you could explain the story in a couple of sentences. I would only want to read a story if you had to read all of it to understand it.”

“The soccer field next to the football stadium was littered with cups and food wrappings from a football function the previous weekend,” Vigeland continues. “Jack sniffed at the stuff as he looked for a place to pee. What would I need to say if I were going to write the story my daughter described, a story you could read late at night in a quiet corner of the city somewhere? What words would find the feeling of that summer day when I took off—went on the road—certain this was something I had to do as I kissed my children goodbye, Maren the youngest still sleeping with the calendar I’d bought her on the wall by her bed, the days I would be gone marked off so she could see?”

The son of musicians, Carl Vigeland grew up in Buffalo, New York; after graduating from Harvard, he lived in Conway, where he taught school, worked on a farm, and reported for small newspapers while freelancing for several magazines. The author of six other books, he lives now in Amherst, where he teaches writing at the University of Massachusetts. Married, he is the father of three children.

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Weight 1.2 lbs

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